North Surry head volleyball coach Shane Slate recently spoke of the maturity his team possessed. It was in evidence once again on Thursday evening.
One day after an emotional, come-from-behind win over arch-rival East Surry, the top-ranked Lady Hounds had to avoid a letdown in an important Western Piedmont Athletic Conference match against a quality West Stokes team. In fact, with the Lady Wildcats considered one of the top challengers to North’s dominance in league play this season, it was even more imperative that North Surry play at the top of its game.
The five seniors and four juniors that the Lady Hounds deploy passed the test with flying colors, downing West Stokes 25-19, 25-21, 25-16 to take an early stranglehold on the race for a conference title after beating both Forbush and West bookended by the victory over the rival Lady Cardinals.
“We talked about how it was going to be a tough week with three solid teams that were all going to be highly motivated,” said Slate. “Having a good non-conference match in between two really important conference matches is tough, but we came out with three wins. We didn’t play with as much consistency as we’d have liked, but we did do a lot of good things.”
North Surry (11-0, 4-0 WPAC) was strongly challenged by the Lady Wildcats (8-2, 2-1) in all three sets, but North proved equal to every challenge, taking control of each set in the endgame. The opening set of the match set the tone. In this one, the teams traded blows and split the first 30 points before the Lady Hounds finally got on a roll and pushed out to a 20-16 advantage. West was able to slice the lead back to two points at one point, but North pulled away for a 25-19 win.
Set two started the same way, with the teams tied at 7 after 14 points had been played. Then Paige Sizemore, who had one of her best matches of the season (11 kills, 12 digs and four aces) stepped to the service line, and with a combination of strong serving and attack by Mikaela Johnson, Camille Cartwright and herself, helped the Lady Hounds reel off five straight points before West Stokes coach Jordan Stevens called time-out. However, Sizemore served an ace right out of the break, and the score got to 14-7 before Mackenzie Parker finally scored a kill to get West on the board again. However, North kept pressing its advantage, and reached a 10-point margin at 19-9 after Johnson scored a block, then slammed back an over-set ball, and Dixie Fulk followed that up with an ace.
However, the Lady Wildcats didn’t come up to roll over for North Surry, and they didn’t. West Stokes mounted a furious rally, winning seven of the next 10 points thanks to strong defense by Abigail Gordon and Taylor Cunningham, and Parker setting up Rachel Delcamp on the attack. After Delcamp served an ace, West was within 22-16 before North Surry finally caught a break. Sizemore put a ball at the top of the net, which rolled across the tape and finally came down on the West Stokes side for a lucky kill and a 23-16 lead. But even this didn’t discourage the visitors. They won the next two points and missed by inches from a third when Madison Upchurch’s kill attempt went long. However, Upchurch won the next point and then North hit a ball long to make it 24-21. Finally, Cartwright put the set away for the Lady Hounds by putting one off a West defender.
The Lady Wildcats still held the momentum, though, and they opened set three impressively. Cunningham served an ace for a 2-0 West lead, and the visitors kept rolling, winning the first six points of the set. However, Slate declined to call time-out, and his players proved his faith by winning the next three themselves.
West Stokes was up 10-5 when North Surry made its move. Sizemore put one away from the outside hitter position and then Martha Holt served an ace. West held onto a precarious lead until Cartwright took over with North down 12-10. She scored a kill, then a block that led to a point, and then drilled a ball off a Wildcat after North’s defense had brilliantly dug and then set a smash by Delcamp. The Lady Hounds led 13-12, but then Parker and Fulk took turns loading the proverbial gun for Delcamp and Johnson, respectively. This went on for a while before Holt scored a kill after some apparent miscommunication by West, making the score 19-16. When Sizemore won the next point by North with a block against Parker, Stevens called for time. However, Sizemore beat another Lady Wildcat right out of the break, her team won the next three, and she concluded the match by dunking an overhit on match point.
Johnson had seven kills and Cartwright six. Evann Shelnutt had 21 digs and Holt 10. Fulk had 24 of her team’s 26 assists with Holt earning the other two.
“We’ve got two more tough matches coming up next week with Mount Airy and Surry Central, and we’ll try to recover a bit in practice and try to fine-tune some things,” Slate said.
Both teams are off until Monday. North Surry hosts the Lady Bears, while West Stokes faces another unbeaten team in 4A power Reagan.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.